While Colorado celebrates the first reduction in drug overdose deaths since 2012, the state recognizes that most drug poisoning deaths are actually increasing.
In 2018, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 974 deaths from drug overdoses, a decrease from 1,012 in 2017. Prescription opioids specifically declined from 373 deaths in 2017 to 349 in 2018. Officials are cautiously optimistic that drug use in Colorado will continue to decline but admit that it is far too early to recognize this as a trend. Historically, Colorado substance abuse reports point to widespread opioid misuse in the western state and a perceived containment of meth, justifying the allocation of the majority of state funding to opioid addiction and allowing the influx of meth addiction to fly under the radar.
The Colorado Opioid Crisis
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an opioid prescription rate of 52.9 prescriptions per 100 Coloradans in 2017. While this is lower than the national average of 58.7 per 100 people nationwide, at least one person dies every day from an opioid overdose in the state of Colorado, rendering the Colorado Opioid Crisis a substantial health hazard. The issue is compounded in rural areas of Colorado that have relatively easy access to illicit opioids (like heroin) and sparse access to drug treatment programs. In total, when including both prescription and illicit opioids, 543 deaths occurred in Colorado in 2018. This is a reduction from 560 in 2017 but still more than any other year.
Heroin overdose deaths specifically contributed to 229 overdose deaths in 2018. This is an alarming increase from 46 in 2010, and likely due in part to the crackdown on prescription opioids nationwide. This mimics a nationwide trend of replacing prescription opioid use with an illegal and often easier-to-obtain substitution.
Methamphetamine’s Quiet Comeback
During the 2000s, campaigns against methamphetamine use in the United States were commonplace. The Colorado Meth Project and its parent project, The Meth Project, produced prevention programs that were credited with the widespread reduction of methamphetamine abuse among teens. Coupled with the seizure of meth labs statewide, meth was deemed less of a threat and the state turned its resources towards the opioid epidemic.
While the state focused on addressing prescription opioids, overdose deaths in heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines have been increasing. Methamphetamine deaths specifically have increased 430%, from 60 in 2012 to 318 in 2018, indicating a rebounding meth epidemic. This pattern is evident not only through overall use statistics but also through data emerging from arrest rates, emergency room visits, and meth-addicted babies.
Effects of Methamphetamines
Methamphetamines are an intense stimulant and act in stark opposition to depressants such as opioids. Meth can be smoked, swallowed, snorted or injected and if a person uses it more than once or twice, they have a high chance of developing an addiction. Short term effects of methamphetamine include increased heart rate, decreased appetite, euphoria, and increased energy while longer-term effects can induce hallucinations, delusions, tooth decay and mouth sores (meth mouth).
Prolonged use of methamphetamine causes the brain to depend on the drug for regular functioning, creating a powerful addiction.
Reasons for Meth’s Resurgence
- Reduction in Prescription Opioids: A national effort to reduce the availability of prescription opioids has been successfully implemented, creating a demand for drug alternatives. This is indicated by the increase in heroin and methamphetamine-related drug overdoses in Colorado.
- Meth is Cheap and Readily Available: Most of the meth circulating the streets is no longer manufactured in make-shift residential labs. The Mexican Drug Cartel has streamlined the process of producing large quantities of cheap, high-quality methamphetamine effectively driving the cost of meth down and the availability up through drug trafficking.
- Misunderstanding of the Dangers of Meth: A misconception among many people who use drugs is that you cannot overdose on stimulants. Meth overdose is a prominent danger of meth use, often presenting as a heart attack or stroke.
- Polysubstance Abuse: Polysubstance abuse, or using more than one drug at a time, is common in the state of Colorado. One reason for this is due to the unpredictability of street drugs, which often contain a variety of illicit substances. Using multiple substances, such as mixing meth and heroin, increases the dangers of drug use substantially and often results in dealing with multiple addictions.
Drug overdose can be fatal. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Do NOT be afraid to seek help. If you do not have access to a phone contact Colorado Poison Center for online assistance.
Addressing the Methamphetamine Epidemic
In Colorado, methamphetamine overdose deaths (318 deaths in 2018) are surpassed only by prescription opioid deaths (349 deaths in 2018). However, the rate at which meth-related deaths are increasing far surpasses that of opioids, and drug treatment admission rates for meth have increased 39% from 2014-2018. Large scale prevention efforts such as the Colorado Meth Project continues to push awareness through targeted campaigns but the efforts are still largely overshadowed by the attention to opioids. The state could benefit greatly from increased Colorado meth rehab options for those affected by meth addiction.
Developments in meth addiction treatment continue to advance with medication-assisted treatment showing some promise in reducing withdrawal symptoms. Specifically, meth and naltrexone treatment has shown an initial reduction in drug cravings, allowing for a more concentrated effort on recovery.
Getting Help with Methamphetamine Abuse
Colorado cities statewide are feeling the effects of meth addiction. If you or someone you know could benefit from drug treatment, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake offers personalized inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs, as well as medically assisted detox, co-occurring disorder programs, and aftercare planning.
Boone, Eli. “More Coloradans Died From Meth Overdoses in 2018 Than Ever Before.” Colorado Health Institute, October 18, 2019. Accessed February 19, 2020.
Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. “Colorado Drug Trends.” August 2, 2019. Accessed February 19, 2020.
Dukakis, Andrea. “A Medication To Treat Meth Addiction? Some Take A New Look at Naltrexone.” NPR, November 7, 2019. Accessed February 19, 2020.
National Drug Early Warning System. “Denver Metro Sentinel Community Site (SCS) Drug Use Patterns and Trends, 2019.” November 2019. Accessed February 19, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Colorado Opioid Summary.” March 2019. Accessed February 19, 2020.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Methamphetamine.” May 2019. Accessed February 19, 2020.
Runyon, Luke. “Rural Colorado’s Opioid Connections Might Hold Clues To Better Treatment.” NPR, January 23, 2017. Accessed February 19, 2020.